The 1903 purge of Portuguese jurors | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

The 1903 purge of Portuguese jurors

We've seen the number of Hong Kong jurors rise steadily, but then in 1903 there's this sudden drop:

Graph of Jurors, 1894-1904

And as we typed in the names, it was obvious that the biggest cuts hit the Portuguese jurors. eg on the 1902 list are 20 jurors surnamed 'Silva'. In 1903? Just 3.

Overall the number of Portuguese jurors fell from 182 to 38.

Why the Portuguese?

Did the Portuguese families emigrate from Hong Kong?

We don't have yearly figures, but the cenuses from that time suggest not.

There was a census taken in 1901 and again in 1906. During that time the Portuguese population increased by 18% from 1,956 to 2,310. Not as big as the 30% increase in the whole 'European & American' category, but definitely not the type of drop that would explain the cut in numbers of Portuguese jurors.

Did the conditions for who could become a Juror change?

That's my guess, that something changed which excluded a large part of the resident Portuguese from serving as Jurors. But I don't have any evidence. And it's not as though all the Portuguese were removed from the list.

Has anyone heard of any explanation for the change?

Regards, David

PS We're typing up these jurors lists and putting them online as a resource for anyone interested in Hongkong history - especially people researching their family history. If you can spare 30 minutes to help us and type up a page, I'll be very grateful. Please click here for details.



The census does not show what passport the Portugese hold.  My guess is that only UK passport holders became entitled to be jurors.  Portugese last names do not mean they were not UK citizens.  If I'm right, I wonder if the Americans were booted off the jurors lists too.

"Portuguese" was of course a pretty loose official term in those days, meaning mixed-race Macanese, too -  many if not most of whom wouldn't have held any kind of passport (nor ever visited Portugal). This is why they were often listed separately from "Europeans" in government reports and documents, and treated very shabbily by institutions such as the Matilda Hospital, which originally excluded "Chinese and Portuguese" from admission, as per its founder's instructions.

The lists are strange. I noticed the lack of Portugese too but the passport argument does not wash. Great many Germans appear.

Never did explain either why my great grandfather John Olson was dropped from list. Don't think his son - born in HK -  appears until about 1906 but records and pictures show he was in the Volunteer Force. A friend , C.E.Warren is on the list at the same he was in business with my grandfather was his partner.

I think there was an element of "grease" applied to stay off the list. Otherwise why my family members were dropped off and were late in getting on has no explanation.

My great grandfather arrived from Sweden but held a liquor licence but that was hardly the reason he was on this list because he still held one when he was dropped off!

I suspect that David is right that something changed in the regulations but I also am sure that "grease" and sheer ineptitude played their parts.



As Sean notes, there are too many German names on the list for it to have been limited to only UK passport holders. So maybe there was some distinction made between Portuguese who were considered 'European', and those who were local? Point 19 in the 1901 Census mentions:

The Portuguese population [...] is mainly recruited from Macao, and only ten members of the community were born in Portugal. 1,095, or more than one-half were born in Hongkong, 746 in Macau and 60 in various ports in China. Several members of this community described themselves as being of Asiatic race. The great majority of the Portuguese have returned themselves as Portuguese subjects. British nationality is claimed by a very few.

Just surmising. I understand that plague was at its worst in Hong Kong at the turn of the last century. Would some of the jurors of Portuguese or Macanese roots have returned to Macau so as to get away from the disease?

I wondered if they'd moved too. The only think I could think of to check was the census. I don't have the figures here, but I believe the Portuguese population increased between 1901 and 1906, so no sign of a mass migration there.

Regards, David

Just a wild guess: there might be a lot of Spanish people among the Portuguese sounding names. In 1898 Spain lost it´s last colony, the Philippines. The Philippine-American War followed (1899-1902). During that time Great Britain was a close ally to the US and stood against Spain and the new established First Philippine Republic. The loss of the Philippines might have caused an exodus of the Spanish out of Hong Kong.

My theory the decline likely had something to do with Phil-American War dynamics in the region at that time but might not necessarily mean a lot of Spanish having Portuguese sounding names going back to Spain.  That certainly possible though. I am from the Philippines and have been researching my great-grandfather's Portuguese roots successfully tracing back from HK, Macau and Portugal.  My ggrandfather was on the HK Jurors list from 1897 to 1900. In 1901 he is not on the Jurors List anymore. Somehow he landed job as an Interpreter and later on Customs Officer in the US Government Philippine Islands Commission as I've seen in a 1901 US government publication. Maybe the US recruited Europeans/ withEuropean-ancestry from Hong Kong? I wonder how my ggrandfather got that job.  On a sidenote, my ggrandfather's brother who is not on the HK Juror's List also went to the Philippines at the same time to try his luck but it was not with the US government. My ggrndfather did not go back to HK anymore, established his family and died in the Philippines. 

Hi Mayonie,

Thanks for writing. You've definitely shown where & why a couple of the Portguese men moved to. It'd be interesting to hear if any other Portuguese / Macanese families have similar incidents of their male ancestors moving to the Philippines at this time.

The Census figures quoted above still give me the feeling not many left Hong Kong, but that's just a guess.

Regards, David